Another week, another blockbuster. This time it's Cruise, Spielberg and the aliens in War of the Worlds and the critics just can't seem to agree on whether it's any good or not.
At the top end of the scale, you've got Jim Christopher in The Times and his four star review.
How refreshing to see Spielberg rock the boat with nothing more shocking than pure old-fashioned fear. He prises the story away from kick-ass American presidents, sexy scientists, insane generals and Orson Welles’s famous 1938 radio broadcast, which caused nationwide chaos when millions believed that the Martians had indeed docked in New Jersey. Thus the usual handholds are missing. There are no ingenious bits of resistance and no TV anchormen telling us the score. In fact, the lack of any useful information at all is the clever and disorientating joy.
James loves the fact that the story is told from Ray's (Tom's) point of view and that "fear wraps every scene as tightly as clingfilm"; and even Spielberg's trademark "soft centre" doesn't ruin things for him. Other reviewers are, however, a little less forgiving.
We're down to three stars in the Independent where Colin MacCabe (who he?) gets all highbrow on our ass:
even Spielberg is not only the most successful director of all time, he is also the aesthetic incarnation of the populism that has dominated the West for the past generation.
Wow, someone's been to film school! But wait...what the hell is this? "Rarely can a film have enjoyed a sexual symbolism so lurid" argues MacCabe...
The aliens appear to be equipped with huge prehensile penises, which come with ready attached cameras that can seek out victims in the most secure of hideouts. Once the victims have been caught they are transferred to baskets inside the pods which top the aliens' three-legged structure...From the baskets they are fed to what looks like the largest and most aggressive vagina in the history of the planet.
Er, right then...and the film? What's that like? Well apparently "Cruise turns in an effective performance from his narrow range" (meow) and "Spielberg has lost none of his ability to frame a scene"...apart from that MacCabe's 'review' is full of massive (and we mean huuuuuge) spoilers and more deconstructionist claptrap. Bring back Tony Quinn please.
Finally (and you could see this coming couldn't you?) there's Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian who can only bring himself to give WotW two stars.
The opening sequence...is undoubtedly impressive, but all Tom Cruise can do is look stunned and smudgy-faced and then run away, to show that it's scary - but also keep looking defiantly back, to show us he's not a wuss."
Really Pete, what else were you expecting Tom to do? Act?
According to Bradshaw this film just isn't an E.T. or a Close Encounters in fact, as far as Pete's concerned, it's "a fundamentally unambitious and often quite dull film" in comparison and ends up resembling " a demo for the tie-in video game".
Brooks thinks that this "rambunctious documentary classic" that charts the divergent paths of The Dandy Warhols and the Brian Jonestown Massacre is "a hilarious, heartbreaking affair" which manages to spotlight "an alternative music scene split between the sell-outs and the losers, the bands that are 'lucky' and the bands that are cursed".
The Independent aren't as enthusiastic, but it's difficult to know just how many stars they give Dig! as their webpage is a little confusing right now, although they're definitely not as enthusiastic at Brooks. There are "classic scenes of rampant delusion and egomania" in the film apparently but the two leading men are not so much the "Mozart and Salieri of their day" as "the new Cheech and Chong".
In The Times it's a very respectable four stars from Wendy Ide who claims "If there was an alchemic formula to create the perfect rock documentary, then Dig! would be close to pure gold". In fact the only thing that keeps the film from five star goodness is that it "fails to convince us of the one thing it takes for granted — that these bands actually matter".
At the time of writing there's also some ambiguity over how many stars the Independent are giving moody family melodrama Imaginary Heroes but we're guessing it's around the lower end of the scale with remarks like this: "by the end... you'd rather eat the press notes than endure another minute in the company of these dismal masochists".
The Guardian seems to be in agreement, with Xan Brooks awarding the Sigourney Weaver flick just two stars mainly because he "can't shake the sense that we've all been here before" with films like The Ice Storm and A Map of the World.
Finally it's another two stars from James Christopher in The Times who just can't warm to this "suburban family crisis" mainly due to the director's "hopeless proclivity to wheel out fresh skeletons whenever family arguments are in danger of expiring".
We can't decide whether the news that Brian De Palma has signed up to do a The Untouchables prequel is good news or not. Is it not better to just leave well enough alone?
And if you just can't get enough Spielberg this week, get yourself over to the NY Times where there's a nice little article on his film which documents the killing of 11 Israeli athletes in Munich.
Londonist's trailer of the week is a bit of a no-brainer this time: it just has to be King Kong.